JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 DRIVE TO END HUNGER CHEVROLET SS, met with members of the media at Media Day at Daytona International Speedway.
Q. How many people out of the 43 that are going to be in the 500 can actually win the race?
JEFF GORDON: I would say 43. You look at in the past people who have won on restrictor plate races, it's just right time, right place, survival, and getting that push, it can happen.
Yeah, we have seen some greats win this race that you would think have an edge or a better team, but on a restrictor plate track, it's not necessarily the case. So I truly believe anybody can win this race.
Q. How much counseling, if that's the right word to use, did you feel like you really had to give to Chase Elliott?
JEFF GORDON: None of that's happened yet. I look forward to that process. I spoke to him several times in Victory Lane congratulating him on wins last year, but as far as my interaction with him for the Cup series, that's still yet to come.
I was very excited to talk to him about that announcement that he would be driving the 24 car in the future and we had a great conversation. But I told him then that I look forward to us spending a lot of time together. It was very obvious there's a lot of mutual respect that went back and forth and that's, to me, the beginning of what can be some great talks and mentoring in the future.
Q. What does it mean when you get drivers, young and old, talking about if it hadn't been for a Jeff Gordon, some of these doors for younger drivers wouldn't be there if you hadn't come.
JEFF GORDON: That's pretty humbling. It's been an overwhelming experience, this whole thing, when you finally ‑‑ I mean I've had the mindset of the decision coming for a long time, so it's not like it was new to me. But when you finally make it public and then you get the reaction back, and the reactions that I saw were really humbling, and it's very cool to see people that you compete against especially, say those kind of things about you. Or maybe even fans that aren't necessarily fans of yours. So that's pretty cool. Yeah, it's been awesome.
Q. It seems like though one of your greatest legacy is, just kind of piggybacking off his question, is just the fact that you did open the doors, but you swam against the tied a little of normal convention in this sport, coming from the West Coast and not being of family lineage. Was that a difficult path to blaze for you?
JEFF GORDON: Sure, I probably didn't finish answering that question. To me, when I think back and maybe it's just my way of looking at it, my personality, is that I was one of like a hundred different things that were going on in the sport at that time that were good decisions, good choices, good things happening. That really contributed to the sport growing at a fast rate and giving me that opportunity.
I mean, I look back and think, well Ricky Rudd was really young when he came along, so I'm not the only guy, Ken Schrader was an open wheel driver, so I think the difference is I was one of the first open wheel young guys to come along and then win a championship.
To show that car owners can take some chances on these types of guys because in the past it was always, okay, we put a young guy in here it's going to take a long time to get him to be a championship caliber driver. So, I will certainly take a lot of pride in that aspect of it.
It is pretty interesting to me that going back to your question about this path from California, I always did, when I came in, I always felt like I was the outsider, that I wasn't accepted, and that I had to do things my way, but also to try to earn that respect.
Honestly, and I tell Jimmie this all the time, when people are criticizing him or not giving him I think the credit that he fully deserves, I said, man, just be patient. Just be patient. Just stay on that path. You keep doing what you're doing and it's going to come to you.
I already see that happening, like this year, for instance, in a lot of ways. So that's the way it was for me. I had a lot of guys inside the garage that didn't accept me, some fans that didn't accept me in the sport in a lot of ways, but luckily my team did, and they believed in me. And then I went out and did the things that I did.
It took about 10 or 15 years before I feel like that respect was earned.
Q. Do you think the respect you earned from Dale Earnhardt and the respect you guys had racing against each other, do you think that was an important thing?
JEFF GORDON: Absolutely. Yeah, absolutely. When you're racing with one of the all time greats, and he's chasing you instead of you chasing him, that earns a lot of respect.
At the time, I probably didn't get to understand that. But years later when his fans would come to me and say listen, I was not a fan of yours. I was a fan of Dale's, but I have a tremendous amount of respect for what you do on the racetrack because you're beating my guy. And it takes years and years and years for that to kind of come full circle.
Q. How much do you think Chase's family pedigree will help him grow with the role?
JEFF GORDON: A huge amount.
Q. There's a lot of pressure.
JEFF GORDON: Yeah, and that's ‑‑ this is kind of the thing that you can't, you just can't plan for. One of the things I always tell people with a guy like Kyle Larson, who's been catapulted into this Sprint Cup Series at a high level who is got a lot of talent, you can't prepare for what it's like to be famous, to do autographs, to take pictures, to win at the highest level. You don't know what that's going to be like.
But a guy like Chase, he somewhat can because his dad can give him that actual experience or at least talk him through it to what it really was like. I think that's extremely valuable and has played a big role in his success to this point and will play a big role in the future.
Q. Last year you talked several times about how much you put into the season, you spent ‑‑ you talked about spending more time at the shop and the sacrifices there. I was just wondering, your approach into this season, knowing that it is your last as a full‑time competitor, do you have a different approach to the season or do you think you'll approach it much the same way as last year?
JEFF GORDON: I'm trying to get it all done prior to the season with no testing at Daytona it's helped me have a little bit more time. I got a lot more respect for people wanting to come to races this year, I don't know why.
All of a sudden extended family, friends, oh, I haven't been to a race, I better go this year. So, there has been some planning of trying to coordinate that and do it in a way that it's least disruptful to my routine at the track. I want them to be there, I want them to enjoy it, and I want to have fun with them after the race is over.
But prior to that, I just want to stay focused and do my thing, because I want ‑‑ I've got a great team with a great opportunity to go win a lot of races and win this championship this year, and I don't want to take that for granted. I want to go out on top. So I'm doing all I can to stay focused on that.
I don't want to be completely naive. I know there's going to be a lot on my plate this year, so, I'm going to put a lot of pressure on my team. Not just my race team, but Jon Edwards and John Bickford and people around me, to try to plan in advance as much as possible.
We have already reached out to all the tracks to talk to them about what we would like to see happen when we get to the tracks and what they would like to see and how we can ‑‑ and just express to them how important it is to be competitive this year.
It's definitely been very hectic leading into today, but it's going smooth.
Q. This is your last Daytona 500, is another high moment going to be the last Brickyard for you?
JEFF GORDON: Yeah, I'm not saying that I won't ever run another Brickyard. I definitely won't be running another restrictor plate race. It's just, show me the risk versus reward there.
I love this ‑‑ I say this with confidence. I know that some people are going to criticize me for saying that, but I think that actually the fans should actually look at that as a good thing, because they don't want us to always be comfortable out there. They want to understand that we're in a white knuckle experience and that it's terrifying in some ways. It's hectic, it's physical, it's mental, and so the restrictor plate tracks are, for a guy that doesn't want to race full‑time, that's not a desire that I have to put myself through that.
So, I do it because that's what I'm here to do. But if I have the choice, I would do it differently. So, the Brickyard is not that kind of a race. While it's a white knuckle qualifying experience, the race to me is methodical and with the right car, the right team, you can be very successful in that race. I'm not saying I'm going to do that, I'm just leaving it open. I would put Martinsville probably higher on the list.
Q. Two people sitting in the stands before a race and your name came up, what would you like them to say about you as a driver? How would you like to be remembered?
JEFF GORDON: You always, first and foremost, want them to recognize your ability in the race car as being above most or at a high level. So you want to be respected as a competitor and the way you went about it, how much passion you had for it and just how good you were at what you did. I mean that's what I would want, first and foremost.
Q. If you do go out on top, is there even a small part of you that would... ‑‑
JEFF GORDON: No
JEFF GORDON: I can't think of anything better. I can't think of anything better to end this season with than to do it like that, to be the champion, to win Homestead, be the champion, oh my gosh, I would be celebrating for a month.
Q. So you want the John Elway experience?
JEFF GORDON: Absolutely.
Q. You talk about being competitive. I know you want to win races, but with this pressure or this focus this being the last year, how do you define competitive? I mean if you're running a lot of Top‑10s?
JEFF GORDON: Last year, last year was competitive. We put ourselves in position to lead laps, qualify up front, win races, and I felt like we were competitive enough to win the championship. Now anything less than that, I'll be disappointed.
Q. (No microphone.)
JEFF GORDON: Yeah, man I tell you what, a lot lately.
Q. Are you going to do that sitting in the car next Sunday?
JEFF GORDON: I don't know. It hits me and I don't know, I don't anticipate it, it just hits me. And sometimes it's just reading a tweet or a text or sometimes it's as I'm talking through it and I mean that day we made that announcement, I knew it was going to be tough, but I had no idea it was going to be as tough as it was.
So, everything's been pretty good since then and I get here and everything's kind of business as usual and normal, but on race day, when I wake up, I don't know, it might all hit me again or when I hop in the car or ‑‑ I can promise you if we win the race, that for sure will be an emotional moment, but yeah, I'm a guy that kind of holds things in, when it comes to showing that kind of emotion. So ‑‑ but I'm also a very passionate person. So, when it finally builds up enough and that moment calls for it and it triggers something in my mind, then I, it just it's like full flow, man.
Q. (No microphone.)
JEFF GORDON: Well, my outlook for goal and thought process in looking at it is, I love those moments. I love feeling that. It's an awesome feeling because those are tears of joy. Those are tears of pride. Those are tears of humble moments of seeing and hearing and things from your fans and your peers and things, the media.
That's overwhelming to me. So I like that. But I also wish I could control it a little bit more at times. But I actually, I fully expect for those moments to happen throughout the year, I just don't know when and how. But I don't expect them to affect my focus or what I'm doing in the car. Maybe I'm naive to that, too, I don't know. We'll see.
Q. (No microphone.)
JEFF GORDON: I have done my best to try to eliminate that from happening. I can't control everything, but I mean, I really ‑‑ and this is the difference, when you are able to make this decision earlier rather than later, then I think that you can really be adamant about the focus being on still being competitive and trying to win. I mean I've got one of the best teams out there. There's no reason why we shouldn't be competitive this year on a high level.
If we're not, then I will look at myself in the mirror and my schedule and say, is it me, am I pulling myself too thin and that's what it is. I really believe in my team a hundred percent this year. So, I'm trying to get ahead of those things by talking to the tracks with our team of people and saying Jeff doesn't want to be acknowledged in the drivers meeting, doesn't want to have all these fan salute send‑offs, I'm going to do all I can for the fans this year, and I know I'm going to go the extra mile this year, but I'm really going to do more next year, I plan on being around for a long time being, I'm not going anywhere. I know the demand's going to be higher this year, but I also hope that my fans really recognize that if I win the race, that they will be more excited and proud of that than if they got to see me in a mob of people.
Q. Joey Logano said that when he was going through his rough patch early in his career, trying to find his way, that he sought you out and that you invited him into his transporter to kind of help him out what he was going through. Can you recall a conversation you had with him?
JEFF GORDON: Yeah, my stepfather called me and said, hey, a representative for Joey reached out to me and he's having some difficulties managing some things in the personal and business side of things and would like to know if he could sit down with you. I said absolutely. You know, anybody that seeks me out for advice, I'm an open book. They might not like what I say, but I'm going to give them my honest opinion.
If people have never gotten advice from me, it's because they didn't seek it.
So, when they seek it, I'm going to make time for them. He did and I sat down with him and it was ‑‑ yeah, I don't remember the details of it. It was a personal conversation, so I just gave him my opinion through the experiences that I had been through and some of it had to do with just the team of people that you surround yourself and your family and how you interact with that aspect of it and that dynamic as you go into the Cup series.
Q. What would be the proudest part of your legacy in this sport, is that as has been brought up, you paved the way for younger guys to come into the sport. How ironic is it that the guy that's going to be filling your shoes next year is going to be a guy who is probably younger than you were.
JEFF GORDON: No, I'm excited about that. I'm excited for the sport for that. Because it does remind me of myself. Even though I didn't come in and drive the 43 car, it would have been like me getting in and driving the 43 car.
So, I don't look at it, again, I don't look at myself that way of paving the way, I look at myself as just one of the guys that was out there doing a good job and had good success and got lined up with the right team at the right time and all I was doing was my best to be behind the wheel and then looking at opportunities outside the car and trying to make the most of them.
Q. These young guys in the sport now point to you as a guy that served as an inspiration. Some of these other guys, they say Jeff Gordon is the guy who... ‑‑
JEFF GORDON: Well, so here's the way I look at it. I look at it as the sport started to become more recognized nationally, maybe even outside the U.S., in the late '90s, and when I was having the majority of my success. That would have been when a lot of these kids were really getting into racing in a big way instead of saying like when I was a kid, saying I want to be the next Indy 500 winner or I want to race against Rick Mears, A.J. Foyt, these kids started going, no, no, I want to race NASCAR, I want to race against Jeff Gordon.
So, yeah, I was the top guy at that time when it was all blowing up and being exposed to more people. That's the way I look at it. I don't look at it as I'm the one that made it more visible, I just feel like I was there at the right time and the right place and the right car and the right team.
Q. Talk about the things you don't want to do at the tracks or want to delay until next year. What's acceptable this year?
JEFF GORDON: Entire grand stands full of people is very acceptable to me. More people watching from home is very acceptable to me.
JEFF GORDON: If it does not take, cut into my normal average race day routine, then I'm cool with it. You got to understand, not only do have I more demands from those kinds of aspects, but my sponsors have more demands too and Rick Hendrick and them, there's definitely going to be more demands, but I'm going to have my priorities just like I do every weekend and being recognized is awesome. Who wouldn't want that? I love that. But needing me to be presented a rocking chair or a plaque or something like that, yeah, I would prefer to reward them by winning the race.
And then I do plan on coming back in 2016, that's something we're working through with the tracks now and doing just a full‑on fan experience with people that have been loyal and individual fans of the sport and myself for many years. That's what I want to do in return.
Q. Is there a road map in terms of trying to figure out how you allot your time every weekend?
JEFF GORDON: There's been a road map for 23 years and it changes every year because we get smarter and better. So that's the road map that we're going to be on, leaving a little bit extra room for understanding that this is a unique year and experience and I just want to enjoy the whole experience and even just the mindset coming here, it's just like very relaxed and very cool and I'm excited to run the Daytona 500. I can't wait to run the Unlimited on Saturday and go compete, but I've got like this huge mindset advantage right now that this is the last time. Get all you can get out of it, enjoy it, and go to the next one.
That's not ever a mindset I've ever had. It's always like, oh, my gosh, you know, if this doesn't go perfect, this is, I got to wait until next year. I don't have to wait until next year. It's just now. Take advantage of it, enjoy it.
Q. (No microphone.)
JEFF GORDON: Yeah, absolutely. We're on house money.
Q. Do you recall the first time you strapped in for this race and the feelings that it brought out?
JEFF GORDON: I don't remember that moment. I remember moments throughout the race because I was running up front and thought, wow, man, I might have a shot at winning this thing. And I just remember kind of an ah‑ha moment where I was running maybe third, I think Dale was leading, maybe I was even second. Dale Jarrett was in that mix too and there was a group of like five of us that had separated ourselves from the rest of the field, one down to the end of the race, and just going, oh, my God, what am I doing here, how ‑‑ this is the Daytona 500, my first one, and I'm right in the mix of this thing. How cool is this?
Because I was the only young guy. Everyone else around me was all veterans of the sport. So, I was sitting there going, I don't belong here, but this is really cool and I remember kind of taking the whole thing in going, damn, look at all those people in the grand stands. What's Dale going to do? What's Dale Jarrett going to do? What am I going to do? And I screwed it all up because of that, because I had no idea what to do or I probably ‑‑ I had a car capable of winning that race that day though, no doubt about it, but I didn't have the experience, so I remember that. I don't remember butterflies ‑‑ Daytona 500 typically, before I get in, it's a different feeling than most races, because it's the start of the season and it's an electrifying crowd, it is our Super Bowl, and you recognize that because of what all is going on, the build‑up to it, and so I do have a little more butterflies to start that race than I do others.
Q. Your very first race in NASCAR was at Rockingham Speedway. What would it mean for you for that track to still be on the circuit?
JEFF GORDON: Yeah, I wish it was on the Cup circuit. I wish we were still racing there. Because not only was it the first one for me, but it was also my, one of my favorite races that I ever ran.
So, yeah, that would have been pretty cool. You know, I think I tried to qualify though for other races, so it wasn't the first time I ever attempted a race, but, yeah, Rockingham is a very special place to me, it's an awesome track and I wish there was a way for it to be on the Cup circuit.
Q. What did you finish in that race?
JEFF GORDON: The first 500? Fifth.